New research conducted at the University of Newcastle is set to optimize the design of solid oxide fuel cells (sofc), increasing their efficiency from 35% or 40% to as much as 90%. Another feature of the new design is that it will be able to use low grade fuels, biofuels, and even plastics.
The research team is being lead by Dr Michael Stockenhuber and Professors Eric Kennedy and Bogdan Dlugogorski, all from the university’s Priority Research Centre for Energy.
“Fuel cells are not new in the energy sector, however improvements can be made to their design,” says Professor Kennedy.
“Our strength is that we understand how fuels are used in a traditional sense. Our interest is in adopting this understanding to the sofc fuel cell.”
Sofcs are electrochemical conversion devices that generate electricity. The process through which they achieve this is complex, however explained simply, it entails the combustion or oxidization of fuel and, bypassing the need to produce heat or steam, generates electricity directly from the chemical reaction created by the combustion.
“Basically, this process is able to cut out the middle-man,” says Dr Michael Stockenhuber, who is assisting with the project.
Advantages of these devices include high efficiency, long-term stability, fuel flexibility, low emissions, and relatively low cost. This particular design has the added advantage of being able to tolerate constituents in the system such as carbon monoxide.
“What happens in other designs is that once the fuel cell processes event the smallest amount, it begins to degrade very quickly, significantly reducing the device’s lifetime and efficiency,” says Dr Michael Stockenhuber.
“By overcoming this challenge, our new design has the potential to be almost as efficient as you can get,” says Professor Kennedy.
“We have also looked into the best ways to prepare the fuel for oxidization, for example through thorough cleaning processes,” says Professor Dlugogorski.
Research has been completed on the project, and the team is now waiting on the delivery of the fuel cell to begin testing, and seeking investment or construction commissioning.